How to grow better beetsOn January 31, 2021 by Vlad5 min read
Beets have always been one of our most successful crops and since we also love eating them, we usually grow quite a lot. We’ve always used the same method for growing them and we’ve had amazing results every season. At least in our garden, beets were so easy to grow, we were surprised when we started getting questions from our friends on how we manage to grow them so big and beautiful.
After comparing notes with a few other gardeners and searching online for some popular tips on how to grow beets, I tried to figure out what we were doing differently and why it worked so well for us. But before we get into that, let’s go over the basics of growing beets. I can’t stress this enough: knowing basic biology and details about a plant’s native growing condition is what will make you a great gardener!
Where do beets like to grow?
The beet plant is grown primarily for its tap-root, that’s why it’s also commonly referred to as beetroot. Never the less the beet leaves are also edible and the small ones make a lovely addition to salads. Like with many other plants, it has a lot of variations, each with its own taste and color, and properties, making it a very versatile crop. They can even be used to dye things red or to produce sugar.
It is a domesticated plant that is grown all around the world. It doesn’t like frosty temperatures or soaring heat, but it will tolerate drought pretty well. In our growing zone 6b, we can actually plant two crops each year, both in spring and late summer.
Gardening tip: Planting beets in sunny spots will encourage the plant to develop bigger roots and fewer leaves.
Beets take about 50 days to reach maturity. You can, however, harvest them a little bit earlier or sooner or later, but their size, taste, and texture might differ. What few gardeners know, is that by using the multi-sow clusters technique you can get beets year-round, as I’ll describe a bit later.
When it comes to soil, beets prefer loose-well worked soil with alkaline acidity. If your soil’s Ph is under 6, consider adding some wood ash (just a few sprinkles) to up it’s Ph. Wood ashes also contain Potassium which will help the plants grow healthier but don’t over-use them!
One of the reasons why we grew great beets right from the get-go was that our soil has a high Ph, which beets love. But nobody could understand how we manage to grow them in our hard clay soil. Once again, the secret is the multi-sow clusters method.
How to plant beets in multi-sown clusters
In our first year gardening here we had to find a quick solution to planting any kind of seeds in our clay soil. We didn’t have the resources to buy any large quantities of compost or gardening soil, but we also knew that we won’t get any seeds to germinate if we plant them directly. So our solution was to dig small trenches or fist-size holes in our clay garden beds, fill those up with a small amount of potting soil and plant the seeds in there.
When it comes to beets, the secret is to put 4-5 seeds in each pocket, leaving about 20cm between pockets. Lightly cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and water them consistently for the next couple of weeks. In our case, the beet seedlings usually pop-out about the same time other weeds do, so it’s important to know which seedlings are the ones you planted and which are bad weeds that you should pull out.
How to care for and harvest your beets
You will only have to pull weeds in the first few weeks because once the beet plants get established, they will naturally overpower other weeds. Needless to say that since we struggled to plant the beets in clusters, we also don’t want to thin them out. I know it sounds like a bad idea, but trust me, this will work out amazing!
Like I mentioned before, beets are drought resistant, but if you want good, fast-growth don’t neglect to water them at least once a week if there’s no rain. In about a month’s time the leaves will completely cover the ground, so check underneath to see how the beetroots are developing.
Don’t worry if you see the beetroots poking out of the ground. If you followed our advice and you planted the seeds very shallow, it’s normal for the bulky part of the root to develop mostly above ground. This is done on purpose so that we can see which beets are ready for harvest. The bottom part of the roots will shoot straight down and it’s much longer than you can imagine.
Out of the 4-5 plants in each cluster usually only one or two will grow big at a time. This allows you to harvest them gradually, picking only the biggest beets from each cluster. After harvesting the biggest roots, the remaining plants will take advantage of the space created and start growing rapidly. Even if it seems like the other plants will never grow their roots, you’ll be surprised to find them fully grown in about a week’s time. At this point, just rinse and repeat the process by harvesting the biggest roots, until you empty the garden bed.
Leaving the beets in the ground for too long, will slightly change their texture and make them woodier. While they might not be good for salads, they are still perfectly fine for cooking. We also share the last few beets from each season with our bunnies.
Mature beets are also frost resistant, so if by the time you finish harvesting your first crop you still have 40 to 50 days left in the season before the first frost day, you can go ahead and plant another round. Although, it might be a good idea to plant the second crop in a different spot, since the soil in the first area will already be depleted of the nutrients that your beets need.
For soil amendment, adding a layer of compost at the beginning of the season will generally be enough. But if you want to get fancy, you can test your soil Ph and Photasim levels and ammend accordingly.
Hello and welcome!
We (Vlad & Greti) are building a home on a homestead in a rural area of Romania in Western Europe and sharing our story as two passionate gardeners who ditched the city for a simpler, better life.